In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Mass Atrocity Response Operations:Doctrine in Search of Strategy
  • Alan J. Kuperman (bio)

Most literature produced in the past two decades on the prospects of intervention to prevent genocide can be summed up by a cliché: "Where there's a will, there's a way."1 In that context, a vital if imperfect corrective is provided by MARO: Mass Atrocity Response Operations; A Military Planning Handbook (henceforth, MARO), produced jointly by Harvard University and the US Army. Contrary to the naïve optimism of many past analyses, this report starts with the fact that, without feasible options, effective humanitarian military intervention is unlikely, if not impossible.

As MARO makes clear from the outset, "the failure to act in the face of mass killings of civilians is not simply a function of political will or legal authority; the failure also reflects a lack of thinking about how military forces might respond."2 Accordingly, the report details precisely how such forces could intervene, in hopes that they will be better prepared and more likely to act in future crises. The report's guiding ethos could thus be summed up by reversing the cliché: "Where there's a way, there's a will."

By focusing on practical matters, rather than wishful thinking, MARO is a vast improvement over the 2008 report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, chaired by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers.3 Unlike that previous report, MARO lays out an impressive spectrum of realistic military options, ranging from deterrent threats to full-blown military occupation, which could prevent or mitigate genocide (20; 65-87). The new report also includes the dry doctrinal language that would be necessary for a huge bureaucracy like the US military to implement such a policy.

MARO builds upon three important lessons from the past (17-18). First, intervention creates a strategic interaction between at least three players—the two (or more) parties involved in the conflict plus the interveners—so its precise consequences are unpredictable (25-26). Second, intervention is almost never neutral. Even if interveners provide aid impartially—that is, to all sides based exclusively on need—they inevitably will alter the balance of power in a conflict.4 Third, widespread killing and expulsion can be, and often are, perpetrated remarkably quickly, so if intervention builds only gradually—as the domestic politics of the intervening states typically necessitate—it will likely fail to prevent such atrocities (29).5

The report then addresses stubborn military realities (18). For example, in airborne interventions especially, there is an unavoidable trade-off between the speed of deployment and the weight of armor and equipment used to protect intervening forces. In other words, it takes longer to deploy well-protected forces. Yet, quicker interventions can save more lives. As a result, there is also a painful trade-off between how many potential victims will be protected and how many interveners [End Page 59] will be killed or wounded in the process. Hypothetically, a lighter intervening force—that is, one without armored vehicles, helicopters, and artillery—might deploy three times as fast and save 10,000 more lives, but at the cost of 50 more intervener casualties. Would such a trade-off be worthwhile? Who should decide? MARO does not answer such questions or even explore them in detail, but deserves credit for acknowledging them rather than pretending, as have many previous analyses, that all such challenges can be overcome by political will.

MARO also astutely recommends advance planning for specific military interventions. Very few countries actually are at risk of genocidal violence, and experts are generally able to identify them.6 If military planning teams were provided several months to research past patterns of violence and current political trends in these states, they would be able to pinpoint the most likely perpetrators and targets of atrocities, the locations and means of entry for interveners, the potential staging bases in neighboring states, and the best strategies to stanch violence. Such advance planning would make intervention much faster and more effective when and if deployment orders ever came, potentially saving tens or even hundreds of thousands more lives in a case such as...